Little Joe Y La Familia Las Nubes

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Little Joe Y La Familia Las Nubes

Video produced by Q-Productions

LITTLE JOE Y LA FAMILIA. During a more than fifty-year performing and recording history, Little Joe y La Familia has become one of the top Tejano bands. Over the decades, the group has developed a unique style, imbuing its sound with norteño, country, blues, and rock-and-roll music. Established in 1959 by José María de León Hernández, the band was initially known as Little Joe and the Latinaires.

In the 1960s Little Joe signed recording contracts with several Tejano labels, first with Corona in San Antonio and later with Valmon in Austin and Zarape in Dallas. Little Joe also started his own label, Buena Suerte, which he used to release the band’s Spanish-language recordings, and he used Good Luck Records for English-language recordings. He also established Leona Records and entered into a distribution contract with Freddy Records of Corpus Christi.
By 1970 the “latinismo” Little Joe had discovered while traveling and performing in the San Francisco Bay area drew him closer to his cultural roots. Moreover, Little Joe became committed to the farm workers movement led by César Chávez and the Chicano movement that had emerged across the American Southwest. Soon, Little Joe changed the band’s name to Little Joe y La Familia, reflecting his dedication to the cultural and political contributions and struggles of his community.

During the 1970s Little Joe y La Familia became the leading band of La Onda Chicana (“Chicano Wave”) period of Tejano music. La Onda Chicana was ushered in with the Chicano movement, a time during which the Tejano orquesta musical tradition reached its pinnacle by combining “once and for all the ranchero and jaitón as well as the Latin and American, into a seamless, bimusical sound.” The high admiration in which the band was held drew top musicians to its ranks. Among them were Joe Gallardo, Luis Gazca, Joe “Mad Dog” Velásquez, Joe Medina, and Gilbert Sedeño.

In 1972, strengthened by the addition of these musicians and a growing musical sophistication, Little Joe y La Familia recorded the album Para La Gente (For the people), which became a huge success in the Tejano community. Para La Gente, which was filled with lush arrangements, also embodied the Chicano self-identity espoused by the Chicano movement. “Las Nubes,” “Qué Culpa Tengo,” “La Traicionera,” and “El Disco,” some of the most popular songs on the album, were a synthesis of the best of the ranchero and jaitón traditions, outpacing what other Tejano bands had previously accomplished. “Las Nubes” in particular remains a beloved and well-regarded artistic effort in code-switching between English and Spanish (Spanglish) in La Onda Chicana tradition.

The Smithsonian Institute and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have hosted the band during National Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1997 Little Joe received the Governors Award from the Texas branch of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) for his contributions to the legacy of Texas music. He received the Smithsonian’s Lifetime Legend Award in 2001. Little Joe y La Familia was recognized with a 1991 Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album for Diez y Seis de Septiembre and a 2008 Tejano Album of the Year Grammy for Before the Next Teardrop Falls. The band also received other Grammy nominations in 1988, 1993, 1999, and 2003. Their Recuerdos (2010) won a Best Tejano Album Grammy in 2011.